The first decision of the cabinet in 2006 after King Gyanendra handed over power to political parties under pressure of their joint movement was to erase the ‘National Unity Day’ from the national calendar. The day was observed on Poush 27 (January 27) each year as a mark of respect to King Prithvi Narayan Shah, founder of modern Nepal.
That the eight major political parties that came to power were going to pursue a pro-republic agenda and treating the national hero as a no-body was clear. Soon after, they suspended the institution of monarchy that was abolished two years later. In series of decisions, all identical, prefix like ‘Royal’ were removed from hospitals, government authorities and corporation, although some of them had been built with royal initiative as well as their personal expenses. Statues and idols of the Shah kings including that of Prithvi Narayan Shah were vandalised and removed from many places, with the Maoist party cadres leading the campaign in some. The government-controlled media decided not to play any songs or give space to any events euologising the erstwhile monarchs. But the issue continued to trigger an intense debate within all the parties, except the Maoists, on whether erasing history was just and right.
Last month, the cabinet decided to restore the national holiday on Poush 27 from 2018. In the past few years, some of the statues have been rebuilt by the government.
Two weeks ago, residents of Pokhara were up in arms and forced the government to change its idea of hosting the inaugural session of provincial parliament in ‘Himagriha’, a palace of the Kings, during their retreat in Pokhara, a tourist city, about 200km away.
These visible public sentiments respecting history and national heritage has of late emboldened the government authorities to come out openly in favour of protecting them. On Wednesday, Deputy Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan, Hari Prabha Khadgi obstructed the ongoing reconstruction of Rani Pokhari, a 350-year-old pond, ravaged by the earthquake in 2015, in violation of the laws and principle set by the Department of Archaeology.
The Mayor led his own contingent of followers and broke the padlock that his deputy had put up and declared, “I will make this place as beautiful as my own name (Sundar).” While the major belongs to the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, the Deputy Mayor belongs to the Nepali Congress. But their parties have not taken any
position on the issue.
The 180m by 140m pond was built by King Pratap Malla in 1667 AD dedicating to his wife after their infant son was trampled to death by an elephant. To give it a religious status, he got waters from major Hindu shrines in Nepal and India, and named it ‘Rani Pokhari’ (Queen’s pond). The massive earthquake that hit Nepal two years ago devastated the pond and nearby areas. As part of the reconstruction mission, remaining waters were oozed out leaving thousands of fishes and other aquatic plants and animals dead.
“We are not directly involved in it, but were surprised to see heavy equipment including escalators moving in there. Our impression was that the pond will be restored to its original shape and pristine purity without the use of concrete and heavy equipment’, a senior police official supervising the security said.
As the row between the Mayor and Deputy Mayor became public, Director General of the Archaeological Department, Bheshraj Sharma, instructed to halt all the construction activities for now, and wait for its final order. It said the originality of the national monument site can not be compromised. The construction has stopped, but that also raises a question: what fate awaits the proposed reconstruction of other national monuments and heritage site that were ravaged by the earthquake?